Opinion |

Saudi Arabia Is a Model Country. So Is Israel, Naturally

Why is Saudi Arabia singled out for harassment, a country that is itself fighting terror, is a partner to the battle against Iran and creates thousands of jobs in the West?

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the United Nations in New York, U.S, in March 2018
Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the United Nations in New York, U.S, in March 2018Credit: AMIR LEVY/Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu always has something to criticize the United Nations for – especially the organization’s Human Rights Council. Why, he wants to know, do they always pick on us? He wonders: Have they solved the human rights problems in Syria, North Korea and Iran? Is Israel the only country left on the list of pariah states?

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Ostensibly, a convincing complaint. What does Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, which relies on the most moral army in the world, have to do with all the countries that imprison journalists, murder opponents of the regime, oppress women and destroy minorities. But that’s also precisely the reason why the world “harasses” it.

Israel, which is a member of the OECD, the best friend of the United States, the flag-bearer of the persecuted minority that established a state for itself, is judged by the costume it wears. Anyone who wants to be accepted to the Western club should behave accordingly.

It’s actually Syria that can provide Israel with an answer to its complaints. A Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was brutally murdered on Turkish soil by Saudi intelligence agents. Had that been said about North Korea or Iran, it is doubtful whether there would have been such a staggering reaction, to the point of a threat to the historical relationship between the United States and the kingdom.

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Horrifying behavior by leper countries is considered a matter of course. It constitutes additional proof that they are barbaric, backward, uncivilized, light years away from the “enlightened West.” But Saudi Arabia is a country that was privy to a special status in the West.

In the usual global division, the epithet “pro-Western” is always appended to Saudi Arabia. Although it isn’t Western, it is “pro,” a country that sees eye to eye with the West’s interests. That’s why it is always exempt from condemnation when it executes its citizens, oppresses its women and fails to establish democratic institutions.

Enthusiasm about Saudi Arabia’s “Westernism” overflowed when Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed not only crown prince but the acting administrator of the kingdom. A young man who is familiar with the world, who gave women a driver’s license, who embarked on a campaign against conservative clerics, who has a captivating economic vision, who was described by American journalist Thomas Friedman as a leader who is directing “the real Arab Spring,” who at the same time promises numerous investments to Western companies, and mainly is a senior partner to the campaign of punishment against Iran.

>> Khashoggi and the myth of the 'liberal' Middle East crown princes | Analysis

And now, a great disappointment. The leader who was considered almost Western struck a mortal blow at the rules of the club. What a disaster. When finally “one of us” appeared in the Middle Eastern arena, here he is growing an ugly stain on the Western suit he was metaphorically clothed in.

And interestingly, it was not the heads of state who began the campaign of rejecting bin Salman and his kingdom, but international businessmen and corporate leaders. The sector that traditionally took no interest in human rights decided to distance itself, if only symbolically, from the source of the stench. Bin Salman, the friend of the West, is not good for business.

Saudi Arabia could complain about Western hypocrisy. It could point out that Vladimir Putin eliminates journalists and opponents, that in several Eastern European countries, including members of the European Union, journalists are considered enemies. Why is Saudi Arabia singled out for harassment, a country that is itself fighting terror, is a partner to the battle against Iran and creates thousands of jobs in the West?

But Saudi Arabia is not making these claims, and isn’t avoiding responsibility. It is now trying to find scapegoats who will be acceptable to the West as well, those whose punishment will clear its name.

Saudi Arabia is not the only democracy in the Middle East. It is not a democracy at all, and is unfamiliar with the term “enlightenment.” But it is very familiar with the Western rule book. This lesson has yet to be fully understood in Israel, which is convinced that it is the one who writes the rules. We have to hope that it won’t be the murder of a journalist or politician that will arouse Israel from its complacency, and make it clear why it is still only on the list of candidates for consideration as a Western country.

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